“Please don’t laugh.”
“I was letting my toddler try the herbs I am growing. She ate a sage leaf, and some rosemary, and that was okay. But then she ate a big scoop of dirt. And it was that potting soil with plant food in it that you have to wear gloves to handle?”
“Uh, how long ago did you pot the herbs?”
“About two months.”
“Oh, that fertilizer will have been gone by now, it’s just Styrofoam beads left. Those will come right through.”
“Oh, great, thanks.”
“You know, the average kid eats about five pounds of dirt by the age of five.”
“Wow, really? I guess she’ll get at least that much just by eating off my kitchen floor.”
True story. The things that kids eat, and what they won’t, are truly mystifying. Often, I am finding, it has less to do with taste than it does a battle of wills. That, and a general trend toward putting anything non-food into their mouths that clearly goes against all survival instincts.
As I wrote earlier, we’re currently engaged in the Battle of Orange Food. A battle, I find, I am winning, as long as it seems like I am not looking or my little one forgets about the battle and lets slip a few bites of Butternut Squash soup or Carrot Souffle. She even requested “Pie” with none in sight after sampling my Sweet Potato Pie.
Victory is mine inevitably, and I am well-stocked with ammunition; two sugar pumpkins, three acorn squash, three butternut squash, and no less than 20 lbs. of sweet potatoes. All fresh and seasonal, and locally-grown. I also have the inside knowledge that she loves herbs, almost more than dirt.
In fact, the way she zeroes in on anything potted on the back porch makes me glad for once that I kill every houseplant I come near. God knows what she’d be eating when I break down and have to go to the bathroom for a moment. Maybe I should just leave orange food on the floor around the house …
The latest culinary weapon is my Holiday Dish, Sweet Potato Gratin. I don’t ever see sugarplums when I think holidays, I have visions of butterfat. So, this is not light, at all. It is not an everyday dish. It also contains Five-year-aged Farmhouse Gouda at $20.00 per pound which my child loves regardless of the fact that it is orangish in color. No doubt because it is $20.00 a pound.
I tried to be exact with the measurements, but we were having a trying day, thus I ended up cooking with a 30-pound child strapped in a backpack, shouting, “I WANT CHEESE!” every few seconds while I was grating as fast as I could.
Sweet Potato, Gouda and Herb Gratin
4 lb sweet potatoes
1 1/2 teaspoons fine sea salt
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup whole milk
3 tbs. unsalted butter, softened
6 oz finely grated five-year aged gouda
2 oz finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1 tbs. chopped fresh sage
4 sprigs thyme, leaves only, stems removed
Put oven rack in lower third of the oven and preheat 350°F.
Peel potatoes and cut into 1/8-inch-thick slices. This is easiest using a mandoline (as long as you use the handguard. Ouch, hurts to type right now). You should have enough potatoes for about five layers. Stir together cream and milk.
Spray 9 x 13 baking dish with cooking spray and dot with half of butter. Pour in 1/3 cup milk and cream mixture.
Place one layer of potatoes in baking dish. Pour 1/3 cup cream mixture and sprinkle one fourth of cheese between layers. On the fourth layer, sprinkle the herbs, before topping with the final layer. Otherwise the herbs will burn if placed on top. You can garnish the top later with a few additional herbs if desired. Easy on the sage.
Pour remaining cream mixture over potatoes and dot with rest of butter. You can optionally sprinkle the top with breadcrumbs, too. But the top layer gets dark golden and crisp, so this is not required.
Bake, uncovered, until potatoes are very tender and top is browned, about 2 hours. Let stand at room temperature 10 minutes before serving. This should serve 10 people with some degree of self-control.